Mother’s Milk: Short story pt 1

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Image taken from the Hubble telescope, gotten off of Wikimedia Commons.

A science fiction short story that I’m working on about androids and what it truly means to be human. Does the first part of the story not indicate that? Don’t worry. The second or third part will.

“Hurry! There isn’t much time,” my mom was pulling me by her right hand and my younger sister Nabiki by the other.  

It was hard for me to keep up. Not only was I small, even by the standards of an eight year old, but crowds of people were pushing and shoving in a panic. I worried about being trampled upon by the mad rush of the crowd trying to get to the rocket. Still, despite my annoyance, it was hard for me to be angry at anyone. They were scared, and I was just as scared as they were. I was thankful for my mom. If it wasn’t t for her, I would have been swept away in the tide of legs or trampled under them.  

Time was of the essence. My mom had flown us out a week prior to Mexico City in order to make sure that we could beat the crowd to the rocket. An asteroid was rapidly approaching, a harbinger of death. The collision course had been predicted a year in advance, but that year wasn’t enough to construct spaceships for everyone. Only a few shuttles had been built and only a small population of people from all over the world could board them. My father had been a brilliant scientist at the University of Tokyo. He had discovered ways to recycle oxygen using greenhouse plants aboard spaceships for long voyages. It was greatly in part of him that my mother, sister, and I were given priority aboard one of the three ships. Sadly, my dad would not be joining us. Cancer got him. All those years of smoking did him in, combined with the stress of his job, I tend to think. But his death did not negate our assured passage on the Pilgrim.

 Suddenly I saw it. The Pilgrim was a massive ship that looked more like an early 20th century Zeppelin than it did an actual rocket ship. Its rotund body gleamed silver from the solar panels that were laid over it. A pair of sails lay folded, one pair on each side. At the back of the ship were huge rockets, rockets as huge as the base of a building and as tall thirty foot building. But what was most interesting was this large glass dome near the top of the ship. I couldn’t imagine what it was for.  

“Are you Jun Tanaka?” asked a guard at the ramp in Spanish.

“Yes, that’s right,” my mother said in perfect Spanish. “And these are my children Nabiki and Takeshi.”

“We’ll need to verify.” He took out a scanner and scanned my mother, my sister, and I. “You’re good to go,” he said, after the scanner located the chip. “Welcome aboard, Senora Jun Tanaka. It’s a pleasure to have you. Hasta luego.”

The escalator took us to the Pilgrim. A hatch was open and we found ourselves in an airlock with a group of other people. At first I was frightened. All of the metal flooring and steel beams made me think that I had entered a cell instead of a new home. I dreaded to see my bedroom because I was worried that it would be just as barren. Well, it wasn’t totally barren. Among the side walls were all manner of robots and robotics, not yet activated.

Suddenly a man came out. He carried himself tall and proud. He wore a white buttoned uniform, pressed black slacks, and had a cap on his head. “Buenos dias, everyone,” he said, jovially. “I am Captain Fernandez. Welcome aboard the Pilgrim. I hope you will all feel at home here.”

I don’t remember verbatim of what he said. But I remember the gist of it. He told us not to worry. That we were in good hands, that he had piloted many starships before, and that together we would find a new home. If not, he reassured us that the ship had all the comforts of earth life. I certainly didn’t feel such comforts at the time with the airlock being my first view.

Also it went without saying that I was already mourning for my friends and extended family. Though the asteroid hadn’t hit yet, they were as good as dead, and there would be very little the shelters could do to protect them. In particularly I thought back to my best friend Hiroshi, and how growing up we would alternate between exploring the mountains around Hyogo to wasting an evening away at the arcades. Those days would be no more. I would live while he would die. It wasn’t fair. It wasn’t right. What made the thousands of people on board with me and the people on board with me more important than the millions of people worldwide being left behind? Aside from rank and prestige, I still can’t figure it out. For did not the person who worked as a janitor or the person who worked as a cook matter as much as the doctors, scientists, and artists? While I was aware that many of the people who boarded with me did much to advance the human species as a whole, did not the fry cook who spent every evening of his life helping out friends and family matter just as much? How many people must one benefit to be considered important? One life, two lives, ten lives, one hundred lives, a thousand, a million, a hundred million? Even today I don’t have an answer and I don’t think anyone should have to play the part of God in deciding.

Captain Fernandez was right about the ship though. He gave us a tour of it, and it was more than the airlock with its robots. The first room we saw was a sort of dining room, if it could be called such. A polished white floor, glistening under equally white light, spread before us. The room was enormous. Loads of couches lay in rows to relax upon, as well as tables and chairs for having dinner. There were lunch counters where we would order our food. Behind the counters were cabinets filled with alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages. We were told by the Captain that there wasn’t any danger of running out of food or drink on the ship, and that he would show us why in a moment.

The next things we saw was the theater that played both movies and hosted stage plays. It was built to look like one of those early 20th century theaters, with bright red curtains and paintings and designs etched into the stage and surrounding walls. Next was the library, overflowing with books. While it was true that the ship had the books digitally available, the great minds – my father perhaps being one of those who offered input – had decided that it was best to have physical copies as well. Next we were shown to our living quarters. Here a maze of halls spread out before us. We would soon learn that our dorms would not be very big. They would be tight, or cozy, depending on how one looked at it, with only a few beds, a TV that piped in hundreds of thousands of shows and movies from earth, some dressers for clothing, and a bathroom and shower. But such rooms would suffice.

The last part of the ship we saw was the most exciting. My questions about what the buddle dome was earlier were now answered as Captain Fernandez took us up an elevator shaft and into a spacious garden in the middle of the ship. Here was planted small woods of trees one end with pine, juniper, and aspen, with a trickling waterfall coming out from a crevice of rocks, leading into a small stream. Flowers further added colors to these woods. The other portion of the garden was the essentials, in which fruit trees, bruit bushes, and vegetables of different climates were planted. To help the trees grow were varying degrees of heat lamps hanging above them. Already this was my favorite part of the ship. It was here that the Captain told us that barley was grown for bear, grapes for grape juice and wine, and fruits and vegetables for food. Although, he hadn’t needed to tell us that, it being obvious.

The rest of the ship we weren’t privy to, it being labs were scientists and engineers manufactured meat from cells for food, and creating water from oxygen and hydrogen atoms in explosion proof rooms. The other rooms were the mechanical rooms where the mechanics worked, as well as the bridge.

We were assigned to our quarters as the ship took off. I sat with my mom and Nabiki, the three of us cuddled up in the already cramped quarter conditions. We could hear the rockets ignite. They were loud like a class five earthquake. The lift off wasn’t intense like I feared. I felt slight movement and that was it. My family and I were the lucky ones to get a window cabin. The asteroid was hurtling toward the earth in a rapid pace. In another day it would hit the earth. I looked out my window and said goodbye to my friends, my teachers, my neighbor, my extended family. As I did so, Nabiki started to cry. She had everyone reason to. We all did. There was no question then that I was leaving behind the sunlight for the darkness of space. Little did I realize that the darkness of space wouldn’t be the worst darkness I would face.

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Keeping Sanity with a Day Job

Lily pads

Oh the innocence of youth! When I was a preteen and teen, I was under the false impression that in order to be a successful author I only had to sit down at the computer to type up a manuscript, and send it to a publisher who would readily accept it. From then I would receive accolades and hefty paychecks as my writing inspired generations of people. If only!

Much to my chagrin, my life isn’t one of mingling with fellow intellectuals in wine and cheese parties, – not that I’d drink wine, but I love cheese – nor is it having funds to travel the world as much as I’d like. Instead, it’s working a monotonous day job, in which many of my coworkers could care less about literature or just books in general. It’s a job in which I bag groceries for demanding customers who would rather talk about trivial and meaningless pursuits, such as football, rather than the philosophies of Plato or Descartes, or mythological epics such a Beowulf, or classics in fantasy and science fiction by J.R.R. Tolkien or Arthur C. Clark. Nor does anyone want to talk about the book on the current bestseller list, or the latest news of ecology or new planets and solar systems discovered. During lunch, I dare not stay in the break-room, but rather eat outside and then head to the bookstore next door to read my novel or philosophy or world religion book in solitude. In all fairness, the company I work for is excellent, treating me and their employees very well. My employers are fair and good people, and I work to please them. But despite their kindness towards me, to which I am most grateful, it’s not a job I want to do for my whole life.

So, how do I keep my sanity in a job with demanding customers and coworkers who seem to have no spark of wonder for the world around them? As previously mentioned, I take my book to read at the used bookstore during lunch break. Though lunch break is usually only an hour, and sometimes even only thirty minutes, that small amount of time still does a lot to recharge me for the remainder of the day. For those thirty minutes or an hour, I can be transported to another world of fantasy or I can fill my head with fascinating facts about the world and the earth. Even being in the bookstore itself works as a brief sanctuary, elevating my mind to a higher plane of existence.

Speaking of a higher plane of existence, I also transcend my thoughts to a happier place, in this case I think about my writing and all the ideas I’m going to incorporate into my stories. Jean Paul Sartre said that we are destined to be free, that we always have freedom, even if just a little bit. While I am under obligation to come into work and follow regulations and protocols, I let my mind soar high as I world build, craft characters, compose epic stories, and overall act like a god in my head. I may physically be at my job but my mind is elsewhere.

Most writers have to work a day job. It can feel confining when we believe that day jobs and the monotony they entail are not our callings in life. For those who have been touched by the hand of the muse or drunk from the mead of Suttungr, it can be hard not to go mad, especially since they have a little madness in them to begin with. Nonetheless, we keep writing, even though it feels like the words we use to paint images onto pages fall upon many blind eyes. Why do we keep at it? Because it’s our calling and it helps us tolerate our day jobs.

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Who Shall Lead? Ch 1 2nd Segment

This is the second segment of a Fantasy novel I am working on. I hope you all enjoy it.

Copyright by Jonathan Scott Griffin

“Then there’s only one way to cure that,” he said before shortly taking off, the air whistling to a near screech because of his speed. After all these years, age hadn’t slowed him. He still soared over the land, even with a staff in hand. It was Arinthia who had to keep up.

She could hear each blade of grass pummeled under his feet, some blades sloshing and some crunching and some doing a little of both, depending on the amount of water they had received. The flapping noises of the tents against the light breeze and the crackling of the morning fires grew fainter as they neared the mile mark out of the tribe.

They were approaching over the Dead Plains; a misplaced name if there ever was one;  considering they were far from dead, or being anywhere near the thresholds of death. Rather, the plains were living and breathing with all manner of life placed by the loving gods above. Soft thuds of insects echoed throughout the Dead Plains, accompanied to the thunderous tunes of the hooves of the mighty shagrits. Sometimes the mighty shagrit beasts snorted, causing the air to reverberate around their breath. Arinthia could slightly hear the shagrit’s fur crinkle when a small fly landed upon them. Aside from the shagrits, other animals could be heard nearby. From the ground, came a light but steady scratching, as the tiny claws of the little blue and red moles constructed their tunnels. Sharp teeth gritted, like a rocks being scraped against other rocks, about a quarter of a mile away. It was the ulyix’s getting ready to hunt their prey, the shagrits.

Arinthia chided herself. While her ears were too enraptured by the cacophony of nature, Jorgek had already found a suitable hiding place behind a boulder. The air whistled around the musical note of his bowstring as he slowly pulled it back. The first kill would be his. Not that his obtaining the first kill mattered in the scheme of things, but she and the old Xibian had a contest as to who could achieve the first kill. For a moment it look as if it would be his. But, as luck would have it, Jorgek, in his anticipation, didn’t pull the bow string back far enough and the arrow thudded just a couple of inches away from the shagrit’s hoof.

The rumble and dirt being kicked up from the lumbering beast indicated that it was running to the west. With no time to lose, she took a shot at the beast. Her arrow whistled through the air, singing of death, piercing her ears. But it found its mark. The shagrit fell to the earth. The beast’s heartbeat, still pounding like thunder, grew fainter and fainter until it was mere whisper, to whence it was no more.

“Looks like dinner is on me tonight,” boasted Arinthia.

“I let you have it,” snorted Jorgek. “Besides, I’m getting too old for hunting and cooking anyway.”

“And yet you were able to outrun me,” she pointed out to the old man.

“Is that so? No wonder I had no energy left for hunting.”

“Come, old friend,” Arinthia patted his shoulder. “I’m going to prepare you a dinner fit for a village chieftain, using only the finest herbs and spices.”

“Such as the kind you can get from the fields on any day,” he pointed out.

“You have no imagination,” laughed Arinthia.

“I’m afraid I burnt mine out many years ago,” he sighed.

“No matter, old man. Dinner is still on me.”

Back at the tribe’s encampment, Arinthia was greeted by the gossip of the women and the girls, and it was no wonder. She had blood on her from when she and Jorgek had carried down the large shagrit; something that was very unbecoming of a woman, both the hunting of an animal and the lifting of anything heavy. To further the indignation of the tribe, Arinthia had broken another code by not washing after she had cut up the pieces of meat to leave hanging out by her tent before cooking them. If a woman or a girl was to get herself dirty, she was to wash herself immediately, something Arinthia had always refused to do. It was bad enough when the women of the tribe got a speck of dirt on them, but to have specks of blood, that was blasphemy to the gods themselves.

Jorgek would have fended her from the malicious gossip and the outright verbal abuse, but he was incapacitated, having hurt his back helping to carry the strips of meat of the animal. Not that Arinthia minded being alone. She saw herself as far from being a damsel in distress. She could hold her own, particularly against the three primary instigators, even if they held important positions of power within the tribe. There was Zylin, a daughter of a high priest, Hymla, one of daughters of the chief’s advisors, and finally, conducting herself with the greatest of pomp and the greatest of self-aggrandizement, there was Kywal, the Chief’s daughter. Zylin and Hymla followed Kywal as though she were a goddess herself, worthy of their admiration and subjugation. Certainly the chief’s daughter did order them about, but in the end they found it worth it to be a part of the elite. There were numerous members of the tribe who they snubbed their noses at, but Arinthia was by the far the one they enjoyed showing their condescension to the most, and the reason was obvious. For at least the other women, even though they were of lower rank, still knew their place as women. But it stirred the hearts of Kywal, Zylin, and Hymla to anger that Arinthia couldn’t accept her place.

“Still acting beastly, I see,” Kywal’s voice grated like a spear piercing animal bone. “Really Arinthia, would it hurt you to exercise more feminine restraint and dignity?”

“I wouldn’t know,” Arinthia shrugged. “I had no one as an example to learn it from, least of all you three.”

The sounds of Kywal’s fists clenching, along with the rapid beating of her heart, collaborated together to produce a dissonance of rage. By the sounds of things, Arinthia knew that she had crossed a line, but she didn’t care. Though Kywal wanted to strike her, Arinthia knew that she wouldn’t. Even those at the top of the hierarchy had their code of honor that they were expected strictly to adhere to, for it was given by the gods themselves, and defiling it could invoke a great cursing.

“Ignore her,” Hymla implored Kywal. “She’s just a leech, hardly worth getting upset about.”

“Leach!” exclaimed Arinthia. “You must be mistaken Hymla. From what I understand, you three always leach after what your fathers provide. As for I, I provide for myself by my own hard work.”

“Such insolence!” shrieked Kywal. “Are you insinuating that we are idle?”

“I didn’t think it was much of an insinuation as it was a statement,” retorted Arinthia, not being one to miss the mark.

“I’m sure the gods will forgive you if you strike the smugness from her face,” Zylin goaded Kywal.

               “Remember the precepts,” Hymla reminded her two friends in not so much a humble way, but piously, in the hopes that they would show Arinthia that they were every bit her superiors.

               “You’re right,” said Arinthia, hoping to humor them with her false humility, though she knew it wasn’t very likely. “I am unworthy in your presence, and I could certainly cultivate a spirit of meekness in following the precept the gods have set before us, which, in my case, is learning to be more lady like.”

               “I guess we can’t all grow up possessed with natural grace,” Kywal feigned pity. Her insincerity was evident enough, but if she would toy with Arinthia, Arinthia would toy with her. “Perhaps I was too hard on you,” the chief’s daughter continued. “Bad habits aren’t easy to break.”

               “This is true,” said Arinthia. And unable to resist one last jab she added, “Just as many of us who have the unfortunate habit of spending our time in the company of spineless urchins who only tell us what we want to hear, rather than what we need to know.”

               “Indeed,” huffed Kywal, as her two friends huffed in exact unison with her.

               Kywal walked the opposite direction of Arinthia, Zylin and Hymla trailing behind her like two obedient canyon wolf pups.

               Sadly, the gossip didn’t stop with those three. As Arinthia made her way back to her tent, the whispers flew through the air, stinging her ears like hornets. It went without saying that the other Xibians knew that whispering, no matter how low they tried to keep their voices, amounted to very little. Rather whispering was just considered a form of being polite within their culture. Why? Arinthia could never figure that out. There seemed to be something condescending about pretending to be polite when one could just be upfront. At least with honesty you didn’t have to worry about trying to conceal your heart rate. Yet, she didn’t care as much about the gossip circulating among the adults. For there’s was spoken to one another more in a voice of concern, instead of condemnation, for Arinthia, unlike how Kywal and her two lackeys spoke of her. Yet, a tribe devoid of gossip would be the ideal.

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Who Shall Lead Ch 1 Segment

Here’s a segment of a fantasy novel I am working on. It’s entitled Who Shall Lead? I hope you enjoy it. Either way,  I look forward to your feedback.

Who Shall Lead

Copyright by Jonathan Scott Griffin

                                                                                         

A very light breeze blowing a couple grains of sand past the tent made it to the ears of Arinthia, an obnoxious brushing sound, causing her to wake up. The scratching of a tiny volmont spider grated against the grains of wood on one of the tent’s poles. Five feet away from her tent, she could hear a plains hopper, a small insect, chomping away on the grass.

 Like all Xibians, Arinthia was blind, but with keen ears that more than made up for it. She could hear a blossom fall from a flower, or the first drop of rain splash from almost a quarter of a mile away. If sounds grew too intense, she was able to shut them out; a light gift that came with the curse. Blindness was not a deterrent or handicap to her people. For thousands of generations the Xibians had lived without sight, the very concept of it being foreign and incomprehensible to them.

 Arinthia arose yawning and put on her robe, the dandel hide feeling good against her skin on such a cold morning. Winter was coming, that much was certain. She could even hear the change of seasons crackling in the air.

Crawling out of her tent, she was greeted by the noise of a pair of footsteps walking in a wide gape, carrying a quick stride. Everyone in the village recognized it to be that of Keyro, one of their top hunters.

“Good day, Arinthia,” he said, too loudly which almost hurt everyone’s hearing. “How are you this fine day?”

“I don’t know,” said Arinthia, “seeing as the day has only just begun. What do you want, Keyro?”

“For you to join me on the hunt.” The air whistled as he extended an arm.  

“And by hunt,” she formed the sentence slowly, “do you mean that I’ll be able to carry a bow and take down animals as well?”

“That’s silly!” he made no effort to disguise his disgust. “You’re a woman. Your job is to clean the carcasses and to cook.”

“Can’t do it,” said Arinthia. “I’d probably burn it, or season the meat with the wrong herbs.”

“It’s not that hard!” protested Keyro.

“Then if it’s not that hard, then I’m sure that you can manage.”

“But it’s not a man’s job.”

“Nor is it my job either,” said Arinthia, hoping to cut the conversation short.

“You really need to be put in your place!” he chided.

Arinthia sighed inwardly. No such luck.

“You were made by Father above to be subservient” continued Keyro, his finger noisily cutting through the air. “What do you think he’ll say when your spirit passes through the gates of the dead, up the bridge to the island above? Can you imagine how disappointed he’ll be in his disobedient daughter, always mouthing off? He’ll teach you a lesson, you can be sure. Father will punish you by having you clean the pots and pans of the Eternal Kitchen forever.”

“Well, if that’s the case, then I’ll have an ally in Mother above,” huffed Arinthia. “She’ll chastise him as only a woman can, and she’ll make him sleep alone while she takes all the royal bedding. Then she’ll threaten him with an annulment of their marriage.”

“How dare you speak lightly of Father above,” roared Keyro.

 “How dare you,” she raised her voice even louder, hoping to cause his ears to bleed, “to even think I’d want to be sealed as your companion when you’re not a man, but a mere boy who failed his rite of initiation.”

Now she could her Keyro’s blood flush in his face and the grinding of his teeth. In a sense, she could hear his anger, and it was palpable. Her sharp tongue had cut through a nerve.

“If you weren’t a woman, I’d slap you across the face,” he hissed.

“What difference does it make it I’m a woman or not,” she retorted. “You shouldn’t be hitting anyone, be it male or female.”

A heavy staff thudded upon the dirt, reverberating like an earthquake.

“Lay a hand on her and I’ll lay my staff on you,” came the raspy voice of Jorgek.

“You don’t scare me, old man,” boasted Keyro.

Stupid, Arinthia thought to herself. If you wanted to lie, you had to lie well. Keyro couldn’t lie to save his own life. He couldn’t even control the thumping of his own heart. The perspiring sweat streaming off of him, like a roaring river, didn’t do him any favors either.

“Shall I knock you on your backside,” ventured Jorgek, the air rushing across his staff as he raised it up in intimidation.

Keyro backed off.

“That impudent brush hopper!” exclaimed Jorgek. “My dear, did he” – The old Xibian paused, completely puzzled. Arinthia was laughing. “I fail to see what’s so funny,” he said.

“You don’t?” she asked.

Arinthia always loved Jorgek. The oldest of the Xibians in the tribe came across as grumpy and bitter to a lot of the others, but that was only because they never made time to get to know him. Those who did found a kindly old man under the rough exterior, quick to right wrongs. In that sense, he was much like Arinthia.

She had known him for years. When she was a child, she had originally feared him. But unlike all the other children who had feared him, she alone had approached him, having possessed the courage that many her age had lacked. It was the courage to listen to listen to each and every one of his footsteps. To hear the way he gritted his teeth in frustration, or the sound his eyelids made when they opened and closed. She let her ears swallow and digest each of the old Xibian’s sounds until she grew to learn what kind of a person he was. She grew to hear his inside appearance, not his outside. His heart was the most useful in helping her come to a conclusion regarding his personality. Certainly he yelled at young children to keep their distance, and he didn’t, generally speaking, have much patience with just about anyone else, even those his age. But when people were frustrated or in pain he was the first to lend a listening ear if they would let him.

It wasn’t to say that she became friends with the old Xibian overnight. Jorgek had many social barriers he had put into place to guard himself with. But in time, just by listening, she began to be able to relate to him. This slowly opened up communication, and eventually a mutual understanding. Then, as the years passed, a friendship blossomed like a flower in the spring after a long winter. From her later childhood to the present it was common for her to hunt with him in the fields, to help him make leather from the wild shargits, and to sometimes to just philosophize about life. He had taken upon himself the mantle of a grandfather she had never had.

There were only a couple of topics that were points of contention among the two of them. One such was regarding the Vun. Jorgek believed peace should and could be made between them and the Xibians, whereas Arinthia knew better. Those that could see were enemies, having killed her parents and many others. They had robbed her people of their birthright years ago. Some things could never be forgiven. But she could forgive Jorgek for holding at that faulty viewpoint.

Regardless, she wasn’t thinking of any of her qualms of his at the moment, being far more grateful that he had come to her aid. Hence her laughter. She was laughing because she knew that he would be there, for at least a little while longer, to protect her.

“You should have heard the way he ran off, the way his heart was about to burst through his chest, and the noise of his sweat flying off him,” laughed Arinthia.

“My dear girl, I heard it all,” said Jorgek. “I’m not deaf, yet. But when I am, you know what to do.”

Indeed she did. If a Xibian ever lost his or her hearing it was considered an act of mercy to take them upon the altar to offer them up as a blood sacrifice. When one had outlived their purpose, their blood could potentially heal the land if the gods were well pleased with how they lived their lives.

“I do,” said Arinthia. “But let’s not think of that now. Did you not tell me yesterday that you wished for the two of us to go hunting this morning?”

“Yes. I’m so glad you remembered,” his teeth clacked and his lips smacked into a smile. He sighed. “But I digress. I’m getting old. You know this. What hope does an old Xib like me have against the freshness of youth?”

“You mean to tell me that you just lied about being able to give Keyro a beating? Don’t doubt yourself, old man. You’ll grow senile before you lose the strength of your legs.”

“Why, you’re just as impudent as he!”

Arinthia shrugged. “Did this just now dawn on your mind? Don’t tell me it took you over fifteen years to finally come to this conclusion. I want to think that your mind is as quick as your legs.”

“Ha!” laughed the old Xibian. “My fists are the quickest, and if you insist on being treated like a man rather than a woman, I’ll knock you on the ground so fast that you won’t hear the wind rushing past my fists.”

“No, I give up,” she laughed. “You really could give me bruises.”

“You’re absolutely right on that account. When I was a young man, I was the envy of the tribe, able to take on the Chief himself. I could have any woman I wanted. I was the pinnacle of” –

“Now you’re just making stuff up,” interjected Arinthia. “Are you going to keep babbling on? At this rate the herds will have moved out of our territory.”

“My dear, you know perfectly well that my hearing is superb and that I would have been the first to hear them. Not you. But I do grow weary of your biting tongue. Maybe some good old hunting will shut you up.”

“I think you’re right,” she nodded. “I’m growing impatient.”

 
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It’s Never Enough

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The cover to my upcoming collection of short stories, illustrated by Rowan Trea McCarty

Kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings. – Stephen King

The first step in getting a book published is sitting down and writing it. This may seem like an ordeal in and of itself, but it’s nothing compared to rewriting it. One has to look to see if there is bad sentence structure, misspellings, and to make sure that there is solid characterization, a smooth plot, and no contradictions. Sure, it’s nice to have an editor, but many of us beginning writers can’t afford them. Therefore we do our best to rewrite our own work.

In order to rewrite one’s own work, one must have an impartial mind, something that can be a challenge when the writer worked hard to create his or her novel or short story to begin with. But as Stephen King wisely said, “Kill your darlings.”  And believe me, I have had to kill plenty of my darlings, scrapping whole novels I put my heart and soul in. On a less dramatic note, it can mean just rewriting it. Such as has been my challenge while writing my book A Treasure Greater: And Other Short Stories. Writing short stories should seem simple enough, but I have learned that even short stories, if they are to be worthwhile for people to read, take a lot of time and effort.

I like to think that I am getting close to finishing my collection of short stories, but the stories of A Treasure Greater have proven more difficult to write than I anticipated. Each of these five fantasy stories has had to be rewritten, some just mildly, some heavily, and one story, which was to be the first story and the main story, turned more into a novel that won’t be in this collection. As I write and rewrite, I ask myself when will it all be finished? When will it be good enough? Will it ever be sufficient? There is a quote attributed, though often disputed, to Michelangelo, in which he says, “If people knew how hard I worked to gain my mastery, it wouldn’t seem so wonderful at all.” Those nights I stay up late or those times I work throughout the day, as I work on polishing up my stories, don’t seem so wonderful at all. There are times I feel like I am making progress and other times I feel like I am stumped. And yet, perfectionism can also be a problem, in which writers think that there writing is never good enough, but in truth there writing is good enough for the majority of readers. So, on one hand I have to worry about not taking my work seriously enough, causing me to release sloppy work, whereas the other problem is worrying about perfectionism in which I never release my own work because it’s never in my mind good enough. I have to strive for a healthy middle ground in my writing.

Hopefully my collection of fantasy stories, A Treasure Greater will be published by January or February of next year. Yet, the process has taken longer than I thought it would. Writing a book, even just a short story, isn’t easy. Let no one tell you otherwise.

(C) Jonathan Scott Griffin

Do you like my work? Support me at Patreon. 
https://www.patreon.com/jonathanscottgriffin

 

My Continuation of Gothic Fiction

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This is the third part of a Gothic short story I’m working on. I recommend reading the previous posts if you wish to catch up.

The Music Box Pt 3
Copyright Jonathan Scott Griffin

Anna awoke in cold sweat to the sound of the music box chiming in her dresser. Not even the closed drawer could do much to muffle the sound. The setting sun caused the sky to burn orange and red, darkening her room in mild shade. Anna felt sick hearing the sad music play from the music box. She tossed aside her covers and opened her dresser to retrieve the accursed antique. She was about to toss it outside, but something in her mind prevented her from doing so. She got the impression that to do so would be to murder the dancer a second time. From what she saw in her dream, she was guessing that the ballerina had indeed been murdered. Still, she couldn’t just have the music box start playing by itself. There had to be some way to jam the mechanism.

               Anna went to the old pantry, now being used by her mother as a tool shed, and got a screwdriver, a wrench, and other tools. She worked as carefully as she could, in the hopes that she wouldn’t damage the music box to an extent that it couldn’t be repaired. She managed to crack the box open and then proceeded to remove all the parts inside, thus putting a stop to the torturous music. Anna breathed heavily, sweat dripping down from her forehead, her sweat stained shirt clinging to her like a cold, clammy rag.

               She took the broken apart music box back to her room, and shoved all the parts back in her dresser. It was just in time, too, as the front door slammed to indicate her mom had just come back home. “Anna, are you okay?” she called to her.

               Anna scurried back under her covers, pulling them over her head. Her mom had knocked, but had still opened the door without giving her time to answer. Her mom walked over and sat down beside her. Anna felt her slowly draw back the covers. “Feeling any better, kiddo?” her mom asked before putting a hand on Anna’s forehead. “You’re burning up. You were right. It’s good that you stayed home from school today. Well, get some rest. If you need anything, like, I don’t know, maybe chicken soup, don’t be afraid to holler.”

               “I can’t sleep,” Anna said weakly. “I’ve been sleeping all day. Can I stay up and read one of my favorite books or watch one of my favorite shows?”

               “Sure, honey, that will be fine. Can I get you anything?”

               “No. I’m not hungry.”

               True to her word, Anna spent the rest of the evening reading from one of her favorite books and then watching some TV. She had zero desire to think about the events that had just transpired. She knew that she would have to eventually go back into the attic in order to help the dancer. But for the time being she didn’t want to think about it at all.

              

This desire to block out the frightening memory extended for the next five months, during which she came close to forgetting about it. Anna lived those months going to school, hanging out with her friends, reading, and watching TV. She had dinner with her mom in the evening, and her mom fixed her breakfast in the morning. Life for the most part was normal and uneventful again. And for the time being, Anna wondered if she had just imagined the frightening ordeal. Either way, she was enjoying the monotony.

               It was too good to last.

               One night, shortly after Anna had fallen asleep, she heard the ballerina whisper, “Help me.” This time the ballerina was even whiter than before, standing in a black abyss. She looked at Anna, tears of scarlet blood seeping down her eyes and blood trickling down her mouth. The ballerina opened her mouth wide into a blood curdling scream that shook the very frame of Anna.

               Anna awoke in a state of near petrification to the chimes of the music box playing. But how could that be possible? She had taken apart that infernal piece of junk. She wanted to get out of her bed. But she was frightened. Too frightened.

               Her mom opened the door, a look of anger on her face. “What are you doing playing music this time of night?”

               Anna didn’t answer her, opting instead to stay under her covers and cry.

               “Oh, honey, I’m sorry,” her mom softened her tone. “What’s wrong, sweetie?” She sat down by Anna, removed the covers, and held her in her arms.

               Anna couldn’t speak, but she did manage to point, her hand shaking violently, to her dresser where the music was coming from. Her mom walked over to the dresser and slowly opened the drawer. To Anna’s shock, she took out the music box in perfect condition.

               “Where did you get this?” her mom quizzed her. “Was it from the attic?”

               Anna sobbed. Her mother rushed back to her to again hold her tight. “It’s okay, it’s okay,” she whispered in Anna’s ear. “I’m not angry. I promise.”

               “I saw a ghost,” whimpered Anna, finally mustering up the courage to look up at her mom.

               Her mom’s face turned briefly pale, though she tried to sound stoic. “Nonsense. It was just a bad dream.”

               “It was in the attic,” Anna protested. “About five months ago, late at night.”

               “Well, maybe you feel asleep in the attic if it was late. There has to be a rational explanation. But I don’t believe for one moment that this house is haunted.”

               Anna wanted to tell her mother that what she just said wasn’t true, that the house was very much haunted. But her mom had spoken her view in such a firmness as to end any room for debate. Besides, how could she hope to tell her mom that the music box was now repaired after being taken apart?

               “I’m going to take this,” her mom said – the music had now stopped playing – and I am going to put it back in the attic.”

               “No, don’t!” cried Anna, throwing herself in the way of her mom. Her mom tried to assuage her fears by telling her that it was her wild imagination and that they’d both be fine.

               Those five minutes that Anna waited for her mom to come back downstairs seemed like an agonizing hour. She was grateful when her mom finally returned, wished her good night, and retired to her room.

               Yet, it was a small comfort only. Anna knew what she’d have to do. She’d have to return to the attic and save the ballerina if this nightmare were to end.

 

It was a cold fall day, the trees losing their leaves to bare their crooked limbs, when Anna returned to the attic. Though it was daylight this time around – her mother had left for an errand – the attic was still fairly dark, and cold. Only a few windows allowed for a little bit of light to pass through.

               Anna wasn’t sure what she was supposed to be looking for exactly. Nor did she know how much  she would have until her mom returned. She looked over at the door to the storage room. She still felt a sense of terror from it, but she didn’t feel like she was in any immediate danger.

               The only thing she could do was to look through the different chests and boxes. What she found was 19th century and early 20th century novels, old china and silverware, and some more old clothing. It could have been exciting had it not been for the pressure Anna was under.

Finally, she came across a smaller box, a shoebox. Inside the shoebox was a pile of old letters incased in envelopes, brittle to the touch. Anna feared that if she touched them they would turn to dust. But she had no choice. She felt that whatever secrets this house held would be partly revealed in the letters. Her heart froze when she noticed the address on the envelopes were for outward mail, but had never been sent out.

Hands shaking, she opened one of the envelopes, scared that she might rip it. She didn’t, and she composed herself enough to gently unfold the old paper. The letter was written in cursive, but it was eligible. The letter was dated 1876. She read it.

 

Momma, Poppa,

Please help me. If I was ever in need of succor it is now. I am a prisoner in this house. I fear that old Karl is going mad, and is fit for nothing more than to be sent to a sanitarium. His behavior grows increasingly more erratic. One moment he is jovial with a cheerful and pleasant countenance, the next he is despondent, his demeanor absolutely melancholic. Sometimes he is even prone to bouts of extreme rage, to the point I think he is going to give me a whipping I can never recover from. But that is not the worst of the demons he manifests. He is at his worst when he is happy beyond comprehension. What I mean by that is he will be overcome with bursts of laughter for no reason. I know it is said that it is a good thing to laugh, but his laughter has a sinister ring to it, and he smiles as if to disguise a dark heart.

If only this were the least of my concerns, but suffice to say it is not so. I fear that I am not the first woman he has married and I fear that I won’t be the last. I found three old wedding rings in a drawer, as well as the shredded remains of an old wedding dress in the attic.

Mama, Papa, I am beside myself. Eating is a burden. Sleeping is a burden. I want to go out and get fresh air, but he will not let me leave the house. I am hoping to give this letter to a friend of his. His friend, I think, is sympathetic to my plight.

Love,

Your dutiful daughter Eileen.

 

               Anna felt a sense of terror that she had never felt before. Anna didn’t want to read all the letters, seeing as this one was already taking an emotional toll on her. However, there was an old red notebook under all of the letters. It caught her eye like freshly spilled blood on freshly fallen snow. She opened it to learn that it was a journal of some sort. She had turned to the middle of the book and found herself reading a nightmare in words.

January, 6 1885.

They think I murdered those women. But I am not to blame. The parents cannot prove anything. I am an innocent victim. This house wants blood. It demands a sacrifice. So I oblige. But it never leaves me alone. I hear the voice at night. The voice that calls for blood. It calls me to the storage room in the attic. That storage room is hungry. It calls me to me.

               It matters not. If I’m convicted I will get the chair. But I won’t let them. I will die here first. Besides, maybe then the voices will stop calling me.

 

Ann couldn’t read anymore. This wasn’t an attic. It was a portal to Hell. She wanted to leave and never come back. But she couldn’t just yet. It was irrelevant how afraid she was. Though she felt a sense of hopelessness that she hoped to never feel again, she had to know what was in the storage closet.

Hesitantly and in trepidation she walked over to the door and slowly opened it. It creaked loudly. It was almost pitch black inside, but Anna heard something clatter against the floor. Alarmed, she looked down to see a skull frozen in a deathly grin, its eyeless sockets staring up at her. A quick look into the closet also revealed, with the little light there was coming from the windows, mounds of human bones.

Anna screamed and ran down the attic stairs, slamming the door behind her. But she didn’t stop there. She didn’t stop screaming until she was out of the house and in the foggy woods that surrounded it.

Amongst a grove of trees, Anna fell on her knees, about ready to throw up. The thick fog laid heavily on her and upon the trees, silhouetting the trunks and the limbs into shadowy shapes gasping for air out from the choking grey blanket. The only thing that stood out from the gray of the fog, and the gray and black of the earth and trees, were the remaining leaves, burning orange and red like fire, on the branches. 

Anna tried to compose herself. She wanted to get lost in the fog, to disappear in it and never return. As she was wishing for the fog to envelope her in its cold embrace, the sounds of the music box began to chime again. The ghost of the ballerina stepped up to her. Anna almost didn’t see her because of how well she blended into the fog. The ballerina looked at her with sad eyes.

“What do you want from me?” Anna asked her.

The ghost pointed back to the direction of the house, its spires and weathervane rising like tombs above the sea of fog.

“I’m not going back there,” screamed Anna.

“Help me, help us,” the ballerina pleaded in a voice that echoed from another dimension. “You’ll find your answers at the library.” Upon this advice, she faded away into the fog, the sounds of the music box fading with her.

 

More Writing Gothic Fiction

Here’s part 2 of the Gothic short story I am working on since it’s October. To those who haven’t read part 1, read it first here.

https://anauthorstravails.wordpress.com/2017/10/07/the-challenge-of-writing-gothic-fiction/

Now, on for part II.

The more she thought about it, the more she wondered why she was waiting around. She could handle staying up a night. When her mother was in bed, she’d go to the attic. It was a long wait, at least over two hours. But finally, she heard her mom open the door to her room and shut it. But it wasn’t time yet. She had to wait at least another hour to make sure her mom was asleep. After an hour, Anna carefully opened her own bedroom door to the hallway. Her mother’s door was closed and the light to her room was off. That was a good sign. Next Anna grabbed her flashlight stowed away in her dresser. She was good to go.

               She tiptoed down the halls, annoyed at the old floors groaning under her feet. With this noise it was certain that her mom would wake up. But she didn’t. Anna slowly walked up the three flights of stairs to the final hallway that would lead to the attic. Until then, she had felt her way around the house. Now she turned on the flashlight, shining it on the doorway to the attic. Trepidation, she had not felt prior, now shot up her spin. After all this time of being determined to explore the attic, Anna was now asking herself if this was a wise decision.  She shut the door of her fears and locked it tightly. Of course it was a good idea! With a house this old, who knew what secrets were waiting for her at the top of the stairs. The attic was her King Tut’s tomb, waiting to be explored and excavated of priceless artifacts. That settled it. She opened the door and walked slowly up the steps.

               The attic smelt archaic, a musty smell that was almost suffocating. Anna felt a sense of excitement partly birthed out of rebelliousness and partly out of wonder for what was waiting for her in the attic. Her flashlight shined a beam cutting through the dust and the darkness as she quietly made her way up the stairs.

               She found a spacious room when she reached the attic, stuffed with boxes and chests overflowing with all manner of trinkets, and old furniture scattered about, some in a state of decay. A couple of antique lamps, dating to the early 20th century, sat upon a couple of tables. Paintings lay on the side of the wall, their canvas torn, their frames rusting. Some of the paintings were those of landscapes, others of portraits. The portraits were unnerving. The people on them looked despondent, some even dour. Anna looked away from the paintings to find that one of the couches had an old blanket covered in mildew spread it across it, as well as a late 19th century porcelain doll of a girl.

               Anna picked up the doll gently, for fear it would fall apart in her hands. The doll had many cracks in the face, as well as grime coated onto it. Most unnerving were the stains coming down from the eyes. They were a dark black, but it still looked like she had been weeping. The doll’s dress, once a vibrant white, was now stained a sickly orange and yellow.

               Anna placed the doll back onto the couch and looked for other things she could find in the attic, maybe something more pleasant. A chest, brimming with clothes, in the corner of the attic popped out at her, the light of her flashlight dancing off the rainbow colors of the cornucopia of different fabrics. She searched through the chest, finding a myriad of different dresses dating back from the 19th and early 20th century. The dresses were elegant, and Anna even tried some of them on, finding that many were too big for her.

               When she was doing looking through the chest of dresses, she pulled out one of the boxes. Opening it, she found an old canteen, a rusted knife, a worn out wallet, and a small box currency from the 1880s. Tired of that box, Anna looked through another chest to find lots of brittle notebooks. But it wasn’t a waste. There were many photos in the chest, too. They were black and white photos of people whom Anna assumed were the old tenants. They were dressed like proper Victorians, with their nice suits and dresses. Anna wondered who they were, what their life story was, and if she could find out, or if the story of their lives was buried under the years gone by.

               Deciding to continue her exploring, she stood up causing the beam of the flashlight to land upon a door she hadn’t noticed before near the back of the attic. Curious as she was, Anna couldn’t muster the courage to open the door. There was something ominous about it, something sinister that she couldn’t put her finger on. She grew frightened just looking at it. She asked herself if perhaps there was a curse in the house, some horror laying dormant under the sands of the years that passed by, something hungry for darkness, something whose hunger could never be quenched. Anna told herself that her imagination was getting the better of her. Those were just silly stories that illogical adults believed and immature children believed in.

               Still, the darkness of the attic was palpable, and the little amount of light from her flashlight couldn’t chase away all of the shadows that smothered the attic like a thick black cloak. Anna decided it was wise to come back another time when she was feeling more rational, perhaps during the day when her mother was out.

               Anna was making her way towards the door when she accidently knocked over an object upon the table. She had not seen it initially, and was only alerted to it when it landed upon the floor with a clack followed by music playing. She looked down to see a music box, which she picked up and examined. The lid had come open to reveal the figurine of a ballet dancer, wearing 19th century ballet clothes consisting of a tight-fitting bodice and a long tutu – certainly not like the short ones of the 21st century – that poofed out like a white rose in full bloom. Upon the figurine’s head was a floral crown. She danced upon a pedestal that rotated, a mechanism causing her to spin around with one leg stretched out in the back of her like a swan. In truth, the mechanism for the music box was very intricate, as one moment she’d be leaning her body forward, leg outstretched in the back of her and her arms outstretched as though she were getting ready to fly, the next standing tip toe on one foot, the other leg lifted up and bent so that the other foot could lightly touch the knee opposite as she spun around. The chime of the music that the mechanical ballerina danced to droned despondently out of the music box in an embodiment of pain and sorrow, sending a chill into the deepest recesses of Anna’s heart, filling her mind with images of shattered wishes and broken dreams. The sorrowful symphony melted like ice into the darkened attic that was voraciously feeding off of it.

               As the music box sadly sang on, Anna at first didn’t notice the apparition in front of her. It wasn’t until she felt a gust of frigid air that she looked up to see the white luminescent form of a ballerina dancing around her. Anna would have gasped if her breath had not of been glued in the back of her throat out of fear and wonder. She also would have dropped the music box, but it was frozen to her hands in fright. The ballerina looked just like the dancing figurine of the ballerina within the music box. The pale specter danced around Anna, her dress like the petals of a white rose blown gently in the wind, while the sad tune of the music played on. As the ballerina danced on, flowers fell from the wreath on her head, the petals withering away in twisted pain within the agonizing abyss of shadows.

               Anna wanted to run, but she was too petrified by shock to do so. And yet it wasn’t just shock that held her captive. The ballerina, though ghostly, had a grace about her, moving nimbly throughout the air.

               When the music ended, the ballerina faded away into the darkness, leaving Anna perplexed.

               A low groan emanated from the doorway near the back of the attic. It could have been the house settling, but it sounded more akin to a human groan, like the groan from a man, one twisted and tormented. Slowly the door in the back creaked open ever so slightly.

               This time, Anna didn’t wait. Not even letting go of the music box, she ran downstairs. She didn’t care if she woke her mother up. She slammed the attic door shut and ran back down towards her room. It was a miracle that she didn’t fall down the stair and break her neck.

               She expected her mother to come in at any moment to ask her what sort of tomfoolery she had gotten herself into, but her mom was still fast asleep in her room. Anna had forgotten that her mom could be a sound sleeper. Anna shoved the music box into one of her dresser drawers in the hopes that she wouldn’t think about it.

               She didn’t know if she’d be able to sleep the rest of the night. Would what was ever in the attic’s closet come down to get her? For that matter what was in that closet? Furthermore who was that ghostly apparition of a ballerina she saw? Sure enough, Anna didn’t sleep that night.

               When the sun arose to kindly banish the shadows, Anna finally fell asleep. It was then that her mom woke her up to ask her if anything was wrong. Anna lied, telling her she was a bit sick. Though her mom told her it didn’t feel like she had a fever, she still convinced her that she was feeling sick. Her mom let her have the day off from school, and Anna, exhausted, fell back asleep.

               Sleep offered Anna no solace. In her dreams she found herself back up in the attic. This time the attic door was wide open, and standing in it was the ghost of the ballerina she had seen. She had fear in her eyes and she cried out, “Anna, help me!” before the door closed on her as if it was a mouth devouring her.

               Anna awoke in cold sweat.
That’s where I’m currently at. I have found the story to be a challenge to write, but I am eager to finish it up.

(C) Jonathan Scott Griffin

 

Writing Gothic Fiction

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Due to it being October, I have taken a break from working on most of my fantasy and science fiction stories and novels to focus on Gothic fiction. In this case I am working on a couple of short stories and the beginning of a novel. I am in love with Gothic lit, with such books as Dracula, The Phantom Ship, Wuthering Heights, The Haunting of Hill House, and the works of Edgar Allan Poe and HP Lovecraft, just to name a few. I am hoping that I can capture the gloomy and macabre mood of death and decay as these works of art do. Here is the opening I have to my unfinished short story The Music Box.

“Don’t go up into the attic,” Anna’s mom told her sternly.

               “Why not?” Anna pouted indignantly.

               “Because it’s not safe up there,” her mother answered. “I don’t want you hurt, my love.”

               Anna folded her arms in displeasure. Her mother was always so unreasonable. What was the point of living out in a beautiful 19th century Victorian home if she could never explore it all? She had explored the library, the pantry, the living room, and all the bedrooms. She so wanted to see the attic. The fact that her mother was making it off limits just made her all the more curious. It was like a parent telling a child that they couldn’t eat the cookies from the cookie jar. No matter. Anna was determined, one way or another, to go into the attic.

               When it was Anna’s bedtime, she tried to sleep but couldn’t. If she had been curious during the day she was even more curious now. What was up there? She had occasionally heard family whispering about it. She once eavesdropped on a conversation between her mom and her grandma debating it over fiercely. Her grandma had been trying to talk her mother into not moving back into the house. “Well, what would you have me do,” her mom had asked Anna’s grandma. “Bulldoze it,” her grandma had said. “Raze it to the ground.” Her uncle had been just as blunt. “The house is cursed, Irene,” he had said to Anna’s mom. “Everyone in the family knows it. The attic is especially cursed.” “It’s not cursed,” her mom had told her uncle. “And it’s a great place to raise a child.”

               Frankly, Anna didn’t believe in curses. Maybe she would have if she was six years old. But at eight years old she was old enough to know that adults said all sorts of outlandish things to scare kids. Obviously, there was something unsafe in the attic, though it wasn’t a curse. Maybe it was some lose floorboards or some rusty nails. Nothing she couldn’t handle.

So, dear readers, what do you think? Does the beginning of my short story show potential?

Fahrenheit 451 and Meeting Ray Bradbury

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There have been numerous authors who have inspired my writing, but perhaps one of the greatest influences, aside from Tolkien, has been Ray Bradbury.

I was in high school when I picked up a copy of Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451. I was in 10th grade, to be precise. We had to write a paper on a classic piece of literature. This wasn’t something that I was looking forward to. I had to find a book that would really pull me in. Out of the list of suggestions that the teacher gave us, I found myself saying more than once, “Boring,” “boring,” “boring.” Until finally,  “Hello! What’s this?” I had found that diamond glittering amongst the dusty coal. It was Fahrenheit 451 that grabbed onto my imagination right when I read the brief synopsis. A dystopian society in which books were banned and burned! I couldn’t fathom such a society. My curiosity was kindled greater than the fire that the fireman kindled within the novel to burn books. I went to the school library and picked up a copy. Little did I know how much this book would change my life.

From the start I was hooked. The smell of the kerosene, the heat of the fire, the pages of the books burning in a bonfire took me to a world that could frighteningly come to pass. Truth be told, it was too real for comfort. While it’s true that government wasn’t – nor are they still – paying firemen to burn books, there were other aspects of this dystopian novel I related to and that I still do. This book prophesies about a hedonistic society that would rather be involved in interactive games and reading lists of brief useless trivial facts that don’t encourage any critical or analytical thinking; kind of like those lists on the internet that give random facts. In short, a society that didn’t like books and a society that took offense at everything!

It should be noted that before this, while I occasionally liked to read I wasn’t the voracious reader that I am now. As a child I loved Dr. Seuss and I still do, and as preteen I loved the works of Tolkien and I still do. But Bradbury taught me to see value in all sorts of literature. It’s not an exaggeration by any means to say that Fahrenheit 451 transformed me from a typical teenager to a young philosopher and scholar. With that one novel he initiated me into an exclusive world of thought. To this day, I see people oblivious to the world around them, being more keen on hedonistic and simple pleasures rather than the pains of rigorous thought. I see people who are just as superficial as Montag’s wife Mildred, who glory in their own ignorance. I see moral policemen both on the Baby Boomer side and the Millennial side who want to censor free speech and ban whatever they disagree with much like the novel’s fire chief Beatty. There was no going back. I had taken of the fruit of knowledge in the form of a novel and my eyes had been opened. Still, I wouldn’t go back even if I could.

As a new Bradbury fan, imagine my surprise when he was scheduled to attend a book signing at Page1, the local bookstore of my hometown. There was no way around it. I had to put my other plans on hold to meet him.

I arrived at the bookstore without any book for him to sign. The only copy of Fahrenheit 451 I had was from my high school library, and I couldn’t very well have him sign that. So I did what any teenager who didn’t have much money would have done. I begged my dad to buy me a nice hardback cover of the novel. Bradbury 2

After that I don’t remember what Bradbury said or if I had gotten there after he did a reading . It’s all vague to me now. However, I do remember the feeling of excitement of standing in the presence of a master storyteller, a modern day bard.   This man was a poet who could write words to awaken longing that lay dormant in the human soul. Furthermore he was a prophet crying out in the wilderness, preaching the dangers of censorship, hedonism, and book banning. He was an oracle predicting the dangerous future of robotics, mindless interactive entertainment, and a society who learns brief facts, but not how to critically think (Again, think random lists on the internet). And yet, at the same time he was just an average man, a friendly man, someone who could be your next door neighbor.

He thanked me for praising his book, signed my copy, and allowed me to have a picture taken with him with his arm around me. I couldn’t believe it. I was important enough for him to put his arm around me like a long lost friend.  When I asked if I could give him a call, he was even gracious enough to give me his number and told me to call him at this time. Talk about class! I was that important. I’m sad to say something came up and I missed that opportunity to talk with him over the phone. But it doesn’t matter. I got to meet him. I got my photo take with him. I got my book signed.  I will always cherish that moment.

Since then I have fallen in love with Bradbury’s other books. I have traveled with and lived on the desolate planet of Mars, seeing the rise and fall of civilizations within the pages of The Martin Chronicles. I have magically relieved childhood in delicious and wonderful terror, traveling through the history of Halloween in The Halloween Tree. I have blasted to outer-space, experienced everyday magic, and mingled with androids in his collections of short stories. I hope that in the future I can be be half as talented as Ray Bradbury, who was more than just an author, but one of my mentors.

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The Joy of Antique and Forgotten Books

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One of my passions is collecting antique books. Alas I can’t afford literary classics such as Great Expectations or Moby Dick, two of my all time favorite novels. However, I can afford obscure books, forgotten books. I can find for a reasonable price books that have been buried deep beneath the sand and sediment of history,  forgotten in graves of obscurity, tombs to these mainly to completely forgotten authors. For many of these books, if not obscure, are dead like their writers.  They are not privy to the glory of the classics. Unlike books such as The Three Musketeers, Treasure Island, or Hunchback of Notre Dame, which have all drunk from a source of ink gushing out of a rejuvenating literary Fountain of Youth, these forgotten books have failed to obtain that state of immortality. Besides, apart from not being able to afford classics, maybe that’s why I love to collect obscure, antique books. It’s a way to keep these deceased and forgotten authors alive, or to at least resurrect them from their graves. The first time I found an antique book I was hooked. I had found it at a thrift shop at the human society I used to work at. The book was a religious devotional from the 1870s.

 

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Two Waverly Novels from the early 1830s, and two novels by Sir. Thomas Brown from the 1720s.

 

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One of my favorite books in my collections of antiques is a 1910 children’s novel entitled Star People by Katharine Fay Dewey. Complete with delightful and whimsical illustrations, it tells charming stories of personified constellations in a fairy tale setting. The stars are gods and goddesses, Draco is an actual dragon, comets are more like mischievous sprites, and the Sun is a King who gets the better of Cancer, an actual crab.

Another gold nugget, I found at a used bookstore in LA was a novel by Lytton Bulwere. The 20th and 21st century haven’t been kind on Bulwere. Bulwere had a tendency to write long winded sentences or what is commonly known as purple prose, language being flowery for the sake of being flowery.  Nowadays there are writing contests that skewer his writing in which writers compose the most ostentatious prose possible. But back in his time, Bulwere was a successful author, loved by many readers. Aside from the infamous opening line “it was a dark and stormy night” to one of his novels, he coined such beloved phrases as “Pursuit of the almighty dollar,” and “The pen is mightier than the sword.” Regardless of what readers think of his writing now, I found a good story in The Disowned about angst, rage, and finding oneself.

 

IMG_5413The works of Sir Walter Scott are also interesting. The three books I ordered on Ebay are part of the Waverly novels. The editions I have were printed in the early 1830s. Out of the three I own, I have so far only read The Bride of Lammermoor, but I enjoyed it. It’s a dark and gloomy gothic historical novel, taking place in a decrepit castle upon the Scottish highlands. Intense emotions, doomed  loved, and dreary omens and prophecies are all part and parcel of this book showcasing the worst of human nature. Sir Walter Scott’s writing is intriguing enough that I am anxious to read the other two novels I have of his, Anne of Geierstein and The Fortunes of Nigel.

In terms of antique books and gothic novels, my favorite is a mid 19th century book I have by Frederick Marryat, The Phantom Ship, a story about a young seaman who is trying to rescue his cursed father from sailing the seas for eternity for his sin of murder. It’s a classic flying Dutchman tale. The story is darker than the deepest depths of the sea and more crushing than the heavy waters. It sweeps away the reader into a tide of sorrow, dealing with love and loss.

But my excitement of obtaining 19th century and early 20th century books was nothing compared to when I was able to procure two books of satire from 1720 by Thomas Brown. Complete with beautiful engravings, I was more excited than when I got a pay raise at work. For when it came in the mail, I held within my hands two antiques that predated The Declaration of Independence or the formation of America as a country. These were books that could have been owned by the British upper class wearing powered wigs, and passed down to farmers upon the plains in America. Who knows the history of who read these books!

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Sometimes I ask myself if these books will ever be successful or rediscovered? I like to think that I will discover the next Moby Dick. After all, Melville’s classic novel about the white whale and Captain Ahab’s quest for vengeance upon it wasn’t always a classic. As hard as it is to believe, this book, which has been compared to a Shakespearean play, was a commercial failure when it was first published. It wasn’t years until after Melville died that the book was rediscovered to critical acclaim. Other novelists who were once successful, such as both the aforementioned Mr. Thomas Brown and Lytton Bulwere, have since fallen into a gaping deep, dark pit of obscurity, in which few travelers dare venture into. The shadows of classic authors have engulfed many a forgotten author, if such obscure authors had never received the due respect that they deserved to begin with.  After all, why explore the trail of words into the forgotten forest of misfit literature when one can just read the next bestseller in comfort?

While I love to read forgotten literature, it’s not to say that all of them are diamonds shining brilliantly. Many forgotten books or books that weren’t popular to begin with are nothing more than failed creations that could never live up to the potential their creators had in mind. However, it’s possible to discover some gems buried among the grains of dirt, including what could be the next Moby Dick or the next Great Expectations.

Often I wonder how I will fare as an author. Will the spotlight shine on me, only for that light to dim and my name to be forgotten in the fog of time? Or will I be immortal, my writing living in the hearts of many, spanning throughout all generations and centuries? Or like Melville will I die in obscurity, my writing to be discovered in some old thrift store or used bookstore, much like I found that 19th century religious devotional book in a thrift store? I guess I will never know. Either way, I look up at stars shining brightly in the night sky. Many of those stars are dead, but in some strange paradox they live on, their light finally reaching us. I hope that when I’m dead I can still be a star, my light shining brightly from the books I’ve written.

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(C) Jonathan Scott Griffin